Written by: Justin Davis
ADELAIDE, Australia, Jan 17, 2012 (AFP) – Spanish cycling star Alejandro
Valverde resumed top level competition at the Tour Down Under Tuesday, but
with modest ambitions as he sets his sights on bigger goals this season.
Valverde recently served a two-year ban for his implication in the
Operation Puerto drugs scandal which erupted in 2006, and has been eligible to
compete since January 1, 2012.
Now plying his trade for the Spanish team Movistar is something of a
homecoming for Valverde. It is the successor to his former team Caisse
d’Epargne, which in turn succeeded another former team, Iles Balears.
Due to his climbing and sprinting abilities Valverde has been touted as a
possible winner of the six-stage Tour Down Under, the first of 28 events on
the International Cycling Union (UCI) WorldTour which ends on Sunday.
But Movistar sports director Jose-Luis Arrieta played down those
predictions, adding that his star rider aims to peak for the hilly spring
classics then later, at the Tour de France.
Arrieta said: “He’s always done well at Liege, and this year it will be on
his radar again. If everything goes to plan in this early part of the year he
will be looking to do all the Ardennes Classics.”
Three one-day races make up the Ardennes Classics — Fleche Wallonne, the
Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Belgian Philippe Gilbert became only the second rider in history to win all
three in a single year, in 2011, but Valverde is a two-time winner at Liege,
in 2006 and 2008, and has also won Fleche Wallonne.
Surprisingly, Valverde has expressed his aim to finish well in the Tour de
France. Despite winning the Tour of Spain in 2009, the more difficult Tour de
France has never really smiled favorably on him.
The 2012 edition could be even more of a challenge for the 31-year-old as
it features over 100 km of time trials — a discipline that Valverde has
previously struggled to master.
“He’s worked a lot on his time trialling, but we have to wait and see
whether he’s really made progress,” admitted Arrieta.
Valverde will continue his preparations for the coming season at the
Mallorca Challenge, a five-day stage race held in February, before lining up
at the Tour of the Basque Country.
Arrieta added that if all goes well, the Spaniard will also compete at
Paris-Nice — the one-week stage race held in March which much of the peloton
use as preparation for the one-day classics in April.
But after two years in the wilderness — and having all his results from
2010 annulled by the UCI — Valverde is under no pressure to start winning
“Alejandro’s main objective is simply to get back to competing,” said
“His two years out hasn’t changed anything about him. Cycling is his life
and his passion and he’s just happy to come back to the peloton.”